Hunger and Hormones

hungerHunger is something we feel when we need to eat. When you emotionally overeat, you may be ‘hungry’ before your body is physically ready to be. You can increase your hunger hormones by overuse. In this article, we’ll talk a little bit about hunger and hormones so you can learn a bit about the science behind hunger and hopefully, how to make it work for you.

What is hunger?

Hunger, for our purpose of definition, is a physical sensation in the stomach. It is our body’s way of saying that we need to eat in order to stay alive. Hunger is a primal human need and one we should not ignore.

What hormones drive hunger?

There are two hormones that drive hunger in the human body, they are leptin and ghrelin. Leptin, for its part, is a hormone, that is made by the fat cells. It is supposed to decrease your appetite. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite. It also plays a significant role in the body’s weight.

What’s weird is that leptin, the appetite suppressant hormone, is more prevalent in a body that is heavier. It’s just that obese people tend to ignore the signals that leptin brings. That’s where emotional hunger and emotional eating (overeating) come into play.

Can hunger be psychological?

Absolutely. People can get hungry for reasons that are not physical. Many overeaters are emotional overeaters. Cues other than physical hunger pains and pangs can lead them to eat. Have you ever eaten because you were bored, sad, mad or glad? Then, you’ve engaged in emotional eating.

Want to know more about ghrelin?

Ghrelin, which increases your appetite, is released primarily in the stomach. It’s a thought signal that tells your brain you are hungry. You would expect it to increase if someone is undereating and decrease if a person is overeating. When children do those things, ghrelin seems to work this way. However, something seems to change as we grow up. We seem to control ghrelin more than it controls us.

Some German researchers have discovered that ghrelin levels play a role in determining how quickly hunger comes back after we eat. Normally, the levels skyrocket before you eat. They then go down for about three hours after so you shouldn’t be physically hungry for at least three hours after eating.

What do we know about leptin?

Leptin, however, seems to be the bigger player in the body’s quest for energy balance. This is the appetite suppressor. Some researchers think that leptin may regulate ghrelin. Leptin tells the body it has enough fat to survive. The more fat you have, the more leptin is in your blood. However, the amount of sleep you get and the time you last ate can have a significant effect on leptin. Studies have shown that rats can develop an insensitivity to leptin. It seems that this may be transferred to humans and is why obese people can ‘ignore’ leptin’s cues.

What happens to hunger hormones after sleeve surgery?

Well, it seems that ghrelin is reduced after sleeve surgery. Because it’s produced in the stomach and about 70% of the stomach goes away with this surgery, there is less ghrelin being produced. This may explain why people who have the sleeve surgery report less hunger. Sleeve patients also report feeling more satiety between meals.

So, do you now understand hunger and hormones better? If not, there are lots of articles on the internet that can help. Remember, I am not a medical doctor or a nutritionist. I am a life coach specializing in emotional overeating and bariatric surgery. This is for informational purposes only.


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